Saturday, July 26, 2008

The cost of salt

The bible says that we are the "salt of the earth". This reminds us of how salt is an essential part of life. However, as with all aspects of are lives, balance is essential. This is no more evident than the critical balance of salt in our bodies. We must maintain a level of sodium of exactly 140 meq/dl at all times. if we deviate even 10 meq in either direction, we can have a seizure and die. This is handled beautifully by our kidneys, which I have always believed to be the most important organ in the body. (I am having serious second thoughts, of late, as to the kidneys importance compared to the heart).
For years people would comment to me of how salt was a poison and to avoid it in the diet. My response was typical of a scientific 2-dimensional view of the body as a chemistry lab. I would say, "You don't need to worry about salt, as long as you have a good heart and good kidneys, you'll be in balance". Although this, en faze, is true, it belies the insidious nature in which this delicate balance can be disrupted.
About a year ago, Barbie bought me a book on the history of salt. It was fascinating. I realized that until 100 years ago, salt was considered a rare commodity and was often rationed. Now it is ubiquitous. It is in everything. Even while I was reading the book, I had no idea that my body was struggling to maintain my salt balance.
I love salt; pickles, pizza, pistachios, potato chips and pancakes were among my favorite poisons, and those are just the "P's". What I didn't realize was that my constant abdominal upset was related to this. Finally, in February of this year, it became evident that I was in mild heart failure and I was told to go on a salt-restricted diet. The effect was immediate. In one week I lost ten pounds and felt wonderful. However, I then became obsessed with the sodium content of everything.
Salt-restriction is actually a misnomer. I was told to stay within the daily recommendation of sodium intake for all Americans, not just those with bad hearts. This is 2000 mg a day. (The equivalent of one teaspoon of salt). Salt became my adversary. It is in everything; all prepared foods, anything from a can or package, all soups, anything brined or marinated, all restaurant food, you can't escape it. Why did I lose weight? Two reasons, by eating less salt, I stopped retaining water and second, it was hard to find low sodium foods, so I ate less.
Which brings me to this amazing revelation. Yet another in the myriad of weight loss plans. Try eating 2000 mg of sodium or less per day for two weeks, and I guarantee, you will lose weight. Not that I wish to make light (pun intended) of my situation. However, I have learned over the years that my original simplistic view of nutrition and chemistry was inadequate. Our bodies were originally designed for a world in which calories and salt were in short supply. We had to extract minimal nutrients from fiber rich/calorie poor foods. That is all reversed now that food-processing removes the fiber for us and adds salt, fat and sugar for taste. We weren't designed for this.
I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. In the end, salt, which is now the cheapest of food substances, has cost me a lot.
Just a thought.


I should add, salt did not cause my heart problem, amyloidosis did. The salt only makes it harder for my sick heart to maintain proper fluid balance.


Lisa M said...

Kevin & Barbie,

Your comments lift my spirits. Your stength amazes me. One would think it should be the other way around. I have been saving copies of many of your blogs for the future. They are so inspiring.

Good thoughts for Monday.

Love your sister Lisa

Brooke Trogdon said...

I like the way that you write, because you can take something for example; salt, and make it interesting. Thank you for posting your thoughts, I like feeling closer to you both even though you're very far away doing something that is very difficult. Our love and prayers are with you.

Anonymous said...

salt? salt?! what about pepper? everyone always picks on salt, but that pepper is no angel either!

We love you all and hope your family is well.

Anonymous said...

I'm learning so much from your "journey" I can't thank you or Heavenly Father enough for this wonderful opportunity! We really miss you at the branch and always keep you in our prayers! Lots of love from the Pages

Anonymous said...

oh dad.. you make me smile.